4 Privacy Commissioners Now Investigating RCMPs Use of Clearview AI

4 different privacy commissioners are now investigating the RCMPs use of the controversial Clearview AI software. This one asked RCMP to stop using it.

It’s hard to believe that this story is only a week old, but we are seeing another update to this major controversy. It all started earlier this week when revelations surfaced that Canadian RCMP were conducting “trials” of the Clearview AI software.

The software scrapes peoples photographs off of social media and places them in a database. Artificial intelligence is then used to identify people with those photographs and tags as much personal information with them as possible. After that, if their face pops up anywhere, a single picture or frame of the picture can then be used to identify anyone.

As mentioned, the RCMP quietly started these trials in October of 2019. When word hit the media that Toronto officers were using the software, RCMP quickly said that the trials have been stopped pending inquiries with crown attorney’s and the privacy commissioners. Shockingly, this happened as Clearview AI faced lawsuits in the US over privacy violations.

While there was a cloud of uncertainty in Canada, European officials were asked about the use of software and whether or not its use would be legal under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). One European official stated pretty plainly that use of Clearview AI in the eyes of GDPR laws are illegal. This, again, goes back to consent over the use of the images which is important to obtain when using such personal information.

Yesterday, we learned that the Ontario Privacy Commissioner released a statement urging RCMP to halt all use of the software. In that statement, the commissioner questions if there is even a situation where such software would even be legal to use.

Now, it seems that questions are mounting considerably. Reports are surfacing that 4 privacy commissioners are now investigating the RCMP’s use of Clearview AI. From Mobile Syrup:

Four different Canadian privacy commissioners have joined forces to investigate Clearview AI and how it relates to facial recognition in law enforcement.

This investigation is still active, so there isn’t a ton of information yet, but we do know what each member of the team is looking into.

The representatives from B.C. and Alberta are both examining if Clearview AI complies with the Personal Information Protection Act, while the federal minister is looking at the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).

The representative from Quebec is investigating the AI in relation to the Act Respecting the Protection of Personal Information in the Private Sector and the Act to Establish a Legal Framework for Information Technology in Québec.

The fourth privacy commissioner investigating is the Federal Privacy Commissioner. As such, investigations are ongoing from two different levels of government at this point.

While an indication might be hard to read into where this could be heading based on these four commissioners responses, we do know from earlier reports about how the Ontario privacy commissioner questioned if there is even a circumstance in which the use of such software is legal under Canadian law. Now that four other privacy commissioners are investigating, it shows that the government designated watchdogs are taking a very keen interest in this incident. No doubt they are very concerned about the legalities of this software. The fact that the software was used without properly consulting them in the first place may not go over well especially if its found that the use of the software is actually illegal in the first place.

Probably the only good news in all of this for the RCMP is the fact that they will likely get legal clarification in all of this. It’s obvious that they were operating in legal darkness during the so-called “trials”, so at least they will likely see an answer at some point. So, if there is a silver lining on that angle, that is probably it.

Still, for privacy minded Canadians, this incident isn’t exactly the greatest news. Some critics might say that a picture of you isn’t really personal information. For a lot of jurisdictions, a picture of your face is actually legally personal biometric information that has protections. It’s basically the same sort of information as DNA information and fingerprints. All of it is biometric information about you. If anything, companies like Clearview AI is trying to show that a face is just as unique as fingerprints.

It’ll be interesting to see how the privacy commissioners end up ruling in this case. At first blush, they seem to be skeptical about the legality of this software, so what they find at the end of this investigation will also no doubt be interesting.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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